Yesterday, I got up at 3:30 am and started working on my book. Couldn’t sleep. I usually go down to the barn at about 6am, but I was on a roll, so I worked until 8am before deciding to go feed the animals. When I went down, Pulani was acting strange. She was humming frantically and pacing the stall. She attacked her food, but then left it to pace some more. I noticed her stomach was quivering.
This is it! She’s in labor! I decided. I went to scoop some horse food thinking I’d toss it into their buckets and run up to the house to get Neva. Together we could watch the baby llama come into the world.
As I stepped around the corner, there was a baby llama, staring at me with wide curious eyes, his legs wobbling beneath him. He still had a bit of membrane on his head, so I knew he was only hours old.
“Oh, hello, I said softly, edging up close, marveling at his size and newness. “What are you doing out here all alone? I think your mommy is missing you. Don’t you think you should return to the stall?” (Figures the first and only day I didn’t go to the barn at the crack of dawn was the day he arrived. Darn.)
The little guy wasn’t sure what to make of me. He tried to step away, but thanks to his wobbly legs, I closed in fast, picked him up and carried him back to poor, nervous Pulani. He weighed almost nothing and was a docile as a lamb. His soft fur felt like one too.
His head was the size of my fist, his neck graceful and long. His ears were perky, his eyes slanted and long lashed. His feet looked like they wee on backwards because the pads of his feet look like the same two toe houves that show when standing. He was perfect!
Smart too. Apparently, an hour after being born he was already curious about the world so he just ducked down and easily slipped out of the corral to explore. I could swoon thinking of all the things that might have happened to him, exposed when so small and helpless. Pulani must have been thinking the same thing, because she was very relieved to get him back. I closed the door to the outer corral so the two would be contained in the small inner stall and watched.
I’ve been very concerned about whether or not Pulani would feed her baby, because she was sold to me by a frustrated owner that claimed she was a bad mother when she had her first offspring.
I waited, hoping she’d start feeding the baby. Nothing happened. Uh Oh. I zipped up to get Mark on my mule and he came back to the barn with me. Still no feeding going on, so I decided to intervene. Somehow, I felt safer knowing someone nearby to help if Pulani went nuts.
“Here I go,” I whispered as I slowly went into the stall.
Pulani folded her ears back and lifted her chin, a warning. I tied a lead rope to her halter and handed it to Mark. I had to cauterize the umbilical chord, so I caught the baby, turned it over (no easy feat) and laid the young llama down on a towel so I could dip the gooey string hanging off his belly button into a cup of iodine. This gave me the opportunity to check the baby’s sex.
“That’s a boy, don’t ya think? Doesn’t that little thing look like a baby llama penis?” I asked.
Mark peered over the fence. “Yea maybe. I don’t know. Could be. It’s small.”
I stare at the little nugget between the baby’s legs. It’s the size of a marble. “What else could it be? It’s gotta be a boy. Llamas don’t have balls, ya know.”
“Actually, I didn’t know that.”
“It’s a boy.”
“If you say so.”
A boy was a slight disappointment. for all that I love the idea of Dalai having a son in his image, I can’t keep these llamas together indefinitely. In six months a boy will try to mate with Mom. Not good. If it was a girl, they could have remained companions forever. Now, I’ll have to keep them apart or sell one or both.
Mark pulled on the lead rope to wedge Pulani up to the wall so she couldn’t move.
I confess, I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect from a llama mother so soon after she gave birth. But I was damn sure not going to let her ignore another circa and let it wither and die. I started massaging her utters. She kicked a bit, and started making this mean growling sound that was so ominous it actually made Mark and I both laugh (nervously). I pulled and massaged and tweaked under her belly, but nothing came out.
“She’s totally dry,” I cried. “I can’t get any milk to squeeze out.”
“Are you milking her right?”
“How would I know? I’ve never even milked a cow. Want to try?”
Mark’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline, “Not on your life.”
I grabbed the baby and tried to force its head under the mother. He would have none of that, and Pulani didn’t act very open to the idea either. She kept moving away, kicking and growling. Now what?
Mark insisted nature would take its course and I should just wait and see. I would have felt the same had I not been told that Pulani already turned a baby away once. Perhaps she didn’t feed it because she couldn’t produce milk. It didn’t feel like she had any, but she was nuzzling the baby and acting protective. At least that was a good sign.
It was a Sunday, so the feed store wouldn’t open until noon. I decided to wait until then before I started panicking. I went back to the house and called the only person I knew who might give me answers, a woman who owns a llama breeding farm. Her husband does my sheering each spring. We talked for an hour and she gave me encouragement and advice, telling me to buy a baby bottle and give the baby cow’s milk if nothing else. She told me to cauterize the umbilical chord again, because this was vital to it not getting infected. She also said it was too bad I had a boy, because I could bottle feed a newborn llama if necessary, but bottle-fed males get what’s called “Crazy llama syndrome” (and I had already read about that) where the male llamas that get too much handling when young imprint on humans. When they grow they get aggressive, attacking (even mounting) humans. Sometimes you even have to put them down because you can’t fix the unnatural behavior.
“Will I have to tube feed this baby?” I asked, dreading the idea of plunging a tube down its throat and filling his stomach with food.
“Let’s hope not,” the woman said, “That’s dangerous. I’ve raised hundreds of llamas and I’ve never had the nerve to try it.” She went on to share stories of baby llamas she successfully has raised without the mother, and I got off the phone feeling better, or at least not so quite alone in my llama trauma.
I went back to the barn. The baby was licking the walls and acting hungry. Pulani was ignoring it. Damn. At noon, I went to the feed store and bought a baby lamb nipple which can be screwed onto a coke bottle and some starter milk that has colostrums for newborn livestock. I picked up a tub of dry goats milk just in case. I went home and warmed up the solution, prepared a bottle and marched into the stall determined to get that baby to eat. Pulani stomped around me, putting her nose on my head, but she didn
’t spit or act any more aggressive than that. I pried the baby’s mouth open and forced the bottle in. He didn’t know how to suck, and just chewed it, his tongue darting out as if he couldn’t’ understand what this eating thing was all about. Mark showed up and watched, encouraging me on.
I guess the taste of that milk triggered his instinct. Suddenly that baby llama was hungry. Starving. He broke away and joined his mother. He started circling her, putting his nose to her neck and thighs. Pulani knew what he was trying to do, so she started pushing his head with her neck to her hindquarters. After about five minutes of the baby acting like a blind calf and the exasperated mother trying to help him figure it out, he finally found his way under his mother. I was still in the stall, so I stood frozen to the side hoping my presence wouldn’t interfere. Mark whispered that it was working. Suddenly, we hear a sucking sound. Could it be there was milk in them there utters?
I silently slipped out of the stall . The baby would pull away, but kept returning to feed, and Mark and I figured he wouldn’t bother if Pulani wasn’t producing. I guess the fact that I couldn’t’ milk her didn’t mean she didn’t have milk. The slurping sound was heartening, the sight of sweet newborn nursing tender .
Throughout the day, I continued to visit the baby. He ate every hour or so, just as he was supposed to. Yippee!
I was intending to name this baby Dalai (or Dolly) after dad, but we decided he deserved a name that was a combination of both Mom and Dad, so we’ve named him Pauli (Paul-ee). It suits him.
He came out smaller than I expected. I thought a baby llama would be more like a baby horse. Mark said it came out bigger than he expected. What did he think it would be, a puppy? All I know is Pauli is delicate, and hasn’t much to him but a pair of long legs. He’s smaller than the dogs (natural enemies), and too curious for his own good, so I have to watch him very carefully. Yesterday, he got stuck in the barn gate trying to slip out again. I plan to staple mesh around the outer corral so he can’t escape again, yet has room to move about. If he’s that determined to roam when he’s only an hour old, imagine how determined he’ll be in a few weeks. Nevertheless, Pulani and he deserve space, fresh air and sunshine if I want to keep them contained for several months, and considering his size, I feel I must.
I had hoped our new llama might have more color, some recessive gene that would surprise me by coming out an appaloosa or brown llama, but he’s black, the spitting image of Dalai, even with the same slight touch of white on his chin and a dab on his forehead. I guess that is sweet too. He isn’t shy, and Pulani is now calm, acting like a much nicer llama. I couldn’t be more pleased.
I wanted this baby to come so I keep going down at the barn every hour waiting for the birth. Now that he’s here, I’m down at the barn every hour anyway just to stare at the miraculous creature that so quickly claimed my heart. I think Pulani and I are in agreement for once. Pauli was worth the wait. Now that we’ve become friends, we will enjoy raising him together.